Congressmen in the thick of the election campaign would have you believe that Narendra Modi’s time is up in Gujarat. Approach an informed BJP camp-follower and he will predict a saffron landslide.
The truth lies between these extremes — in “middle” Gujarat. This region accounts for 50 of the 95 seats slated for polls on December 16. Together with the North Gujarat electorate, people here will decide Modi’s political future.
Analysts took another look at their notebooks as Sonia Gandhi addressed impressive meetings in North and Central Gujarat a day after the Modi bandwagon rolled across Banaskantha, Patan, Sabarkantha and Ahmedabad. Hundreds of boisterous young women and men on their mobikes at Himmatnagar, Prantij and Bapunagar made them scratch their heads.
They aren’t hedging their bets for nothing. Caste and charisma have at once blurred — and blown up — the fault lines. It does not look like the walkover Modi had in 2002. During that last election, this writer, during a 13-day tour of the state, did not come across a single person openly declaring he would vote for the Congress.
The current picture could resemble the Assembly break-down of the 2004 Lok Sabha polls when the 182 seats were split 50:50 — BJP getting 92 and the Congress 90.
This presupposes, however, that the Patel and Koli rebellion has cost the BJP considerable ground in Kutch, Saurashtra and South Gujarat on December 11, when the first round of polling was held. If former chief minister and BJP renegade Suresh Mehta has got it right, the Congress-BJP share in the first round could be 55-32 or 53-34 of the 87 seats polled.
But won't the projected outcome invite an opposite — if not equal — reaction from the non-Patels in north and middle Gujarat? For instance, the Kshtriyas do
not, for social, economic and historical reasons, see eye to eye with the Patidars (Patels). “We have closed the Patel chapter with the first round,” Mehta told HT.
To build on the 2004 outcome, the Congress has deployed talent outsourced from other parties —
Union Ministers Dinsha Patel, a Patidar himself, and
Narainbhai Rathwa, a tribal, who were once with the Janata Dal, and Shankarsinh Vaghela, a Kshatriya, formerly with the BJP. The party has the social alliance it needs to ward off a backlash to the Patel rebellion in Saurashtra.
Modi’s high-voltage campaign still does strike a chord with urban, middle-class Hindus, said Ghanshyam Shah, a political scientist. But he was not sure whether it had similar instant appeal for rural folk.
The Congress is flagging uneven distribution of power and Narmada waters to deepen the rural-urban divide. But the CM’s camp insists the media-backed campaign will only help Modi. “A dip-stick survey has revealed that many first timers will vote only to ensure that Modi isn’t defeated by the media,” said Sushil Pandit, a member of the BJP’s campaign team.